NAME: INGRID BJERKE
ROLE: EDUCATION SPECIALIST IN THE EDUCATION GLOBAL PRACTICE, LATIN AMERICA AND THE CARIBBEAN
ORGANIZATION: THE WORLD BANK
Perspectives: What does your work look like, as an education specialist at the World Bank?
IB: There are two main parts to my role at the bank. One is operational which, at the Bank, means I work on implementing projects, interfacing with clients, offering technical assistance like curriculum reform advice, and in general making sure World Bank projects are implemented the way they are supposed to. In that capacity, I currently lead two projects, one in Guyana on secondary education and one in Jamaica on early childhood education.
The second part of my role is quality work. I’m part of a small team within the larger Latin American and Caribbean education group that reviews everything we do before the projects go to the Board, get restructured, or get evaluated. This means reviewing projects for corporate commitments such gender, climate, citizen engagement – and in general making sure the projects make sense and meet certain Bank requirements.
Perspectives: What does an average day look like for you?
IB: That’s hard to answer; there is no average day! It depends on if I’m “on mission” (a Bank term for work trips to the field), or if I’m back at headquarters. If I’m on mission, I could be talking to the high level government officials, the implementation counterparts, or in the field, visiting schools. At headquarters, I might be going to regional meetings, looking at our corporate commitments, or writing internal reports. There’s also a lot of answering emails!
Perspectives: What is the favorite part of your job?
IB: Being in the field because you get to talk to the beneficiaries and see the impact you’re making on the ground. It’s a blessing to do what we do. We have very meaningful work and, on top of that, pretty competitive pay for the field.
Perspectives: Did you know you always wanted to work in education or development?
IB: I decided I wanted to work at the World Bank in 12th grade. I learned about the World Bank at school and decided I was going to work there one day. But I didn’t know that I wanted to work in education until I was already at the Bank. I was in a general support role and wanted to move somewhere practice-specific, so I asked myself, “When I open up BBC or CNN, what do I first click on and read?” For me it was pieces on human development and early childhood education. Preparing kids to be thoughtful, prepared, and contributing members of society is one of the most important things we can work on.
Perspectives: How did you find your job?
IB: Everybody’s path to the Bank is different. I did something that everybody said wouldn’t work, which is put my CV into a database on the World Bank website. I had applied for a program that no longer exists but used to be called the Junior Professional Associate program. I got a call on graduation day at SAIS that I’d gotten the job - I was actually on a tour of Congress at the time and ended up borrowing a computer in a random Congressman’s office to sign my acceptance letter as it was due that day!
Once at the Bank, my first job was doing general quality work. One thing to know about the Bank is that while you can move around, it takes some time and effort to do so. So, after I knew I wanted to work specifically on education projects, I found a region-specific position in quality work, and then made the transition to education-specific work in the region.
Perspectives: What did you find most valuable about your time at SAIS?
IB: The practical aspects of the program – job talks and event panels that exposed students to real life in Washington. In addition, my internship over the summer at the African Development Bank in Tunis was a big reason I got my first job at the Bank. I asked my manager afterwards what made them pick my CV out of the hundreds submitted, and they said part of the reason was that I already had experience at a multilateral institution (in addition to my SAIS degree itself, of course!).
Perspectives: Any advice you’d give to current SAIS students?
IB: This might be Bank specific, but I would say to specialize in something. Whilst the SAIS degree prepared me well to get into the Bank as a whole, I found it was more difficult to move into a specific practice at the Bank because I was competing against other people who were specialists and thus had strong, specific skills in the field. SAIS allows you the space to be a well-rounded, but I would say try to tailor your classes, extracurriculars and internship so you have a stronger technical background in a subject area.
In general, when approaching an institution like the Bank, my advice would then be to keep the specific area you want to work on in mind, but be open to similar opportunities. Apply for programs, do the coffees, submit resumes for STCs - a lot of it is being at the right place and the right time. Prepare yourself as best possible and so when that crucial bit of good luck comes around, you’re ready to take advantage of it.
As narrated to Yifan Powers, Editor, SAIS Perspectives.
To learn about other recent SAIS graduates' work, visit this page.
PHOTO CREDIT: The World Bank HQ Main Complex Atrium, from Jaako H., licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0